Study Raises Concerns About Religious Discrimination

While many assume the liberal democracies of the West are the strongest bastions of religious freedom in the world, the evidence simply does not support this claim according to a recent international study carried out by Professor Jonathon Fox of Israel’s Bar-Ilan University.

Fox bases his conclusions on a data set recording the treatment of 771 religious minorities in 183 countries between 1990 and 2014 which distinguished 35 types of government-based religious discrimination. These include restrictions on the construction of religious buildings, controls on religious literature and prohibitions on chaplaincy services in prisons.

He found that in 162 countries, government-based religious discrimination was perpetrated against 574 of the minorities at some point during the study period and that this type of government discrimination increased globally by almost 25% over the study period.

The study also found that religious minorities of all kinds are subjected to socially-based religious discrimination such as discrimination in employment, vandalism of places of worship, harassment on public transport and outright violence in particular countries. The prevalence of social discrimination increased globally by almost 30% during the period of the study whilst disturbingly direct violence increased by more than 50%.

In Western democracies, fear of Islamic terrorism and anti-semitism underlined the discrimination directed at Jewish and Muslim minorities. However secularist policies also increasingly being adopted by Western governments place religious believers under mounting restrictions and regulations, such as controls on religious dress or restrictions on religious speech.

The report also identifies the type of states likely to engage in religious discrimination. Whilst Muslim-majority states on average engage in the highest levels of government-based religious discrimination, there is also a wide diversity. There is a cluster of Muslim-majority states in West Africa that are among the most tolerant in the world.

Christian Orthodox-majority states are the second most likely type of state to engage in government-based religious discrimination. Catholic and Protestant-majority states are much less likely to do so

Some secular states are relatively neutral and tolerant towards religion. But others are anti-religious and have a tendency to restrict religious expression, sometimes very repressively.

Many democratic states with officially neutral religious policies may still be influenced by secularist ideologies. This is more evident in secular Western democracies than in many of their Asian, African and Latin American counterparts

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